On its face, workplace wellness programs seem to be a win-win. Employees are often offered benefits such as:
- time for exercise,
- on-site kitchens and eating areas,
- healthy food options in vending machines,
- “walk and talk” meetings, and
- financial and other incentives for participation.
In return, employers might expect a healthier, more engaged workforce and to cut down on productivity losses and even health care costs.
Last fall the city of Houston required employees to tell an online wellness company about their disease history, drug and seat belt use, blood pressure and other delicate information. The company, hired to improve worker health and lower medical costs, could pass the data to “third party vendors acting on our behalf,” according to an authorization form. The information might be posted in areas “that are reviewable to the public.” It might also be “subject to re-disclosure” and “no longer protected by privacy law.”
NPR ran the headline – “7 Questions To Ask Your Boss About Wellness Privacy.” Beneath one of the questions (“What information Will My Employer See?“) was the following –
“Many employers get only anonymous, group data. The vendor reports how many workers are overweight or have high blood pressure, for example. But sometimes employers can see individual results, setting the stage for potential discrimination against those with disabilities or chronic illness. Or they can guess them. Discrimination based on disability and illness is illegal but hard to prove.”
According to a story in Healthcare Finance News, “consumer advocates cannot point to specific examples where wellness program data was misused by employers or not kept separate from employment-related decisions, such as hiring or firing.” The story went on to say that earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission proposed a new rule warning employers that wellness programs must be voluntary, “reasonably designed” to improve health and not a “subterfuge for violating … laws prohibiting employment discrimination.”
Does your organization offer or is it interested in offering a wellness program? Do you think privacy is a concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts.